Andy McSmith's Diary: Blair summons up an excuse to avoid Commons appearance


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Indy Politics

Seven years and four months after Tony Blair departed from the House of Commons, a committee of MPs wants him to put in a re-appearance – but so far, without success. The possibility remains that the former Prime Minister might be ordered to attend.

The Northern Ireland select committee has been holding an inquiry into promises made to suspected terrorists prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. In particular, they want to know why John Downey, from Co Donegal, was among 187 people to get “comfort letters” reassuring them that they were not wanted by UK police. In February this year, Downey appeared in court charged with the murder of four soldiers killed in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982, but the judge ruled that his trial could not go ahead.

Blair’s response has been to offer to answer queries in writing. Yesterday, the committee’s Tory chairman, Laurence Robertson, complained to the Speaker, John Bercow, that Blair is “effectively” refusing to appear. “I am sure that the former Prime Minister intends no discourtesy and will swiftly respond,” Bercow replied.

That sounds like a gentle warning to the former PM to do as he is asked if he does not want a summons.

Broadband lottery

Martin Horwood, the Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham, had a busy morning yesterday. He rushed to the Commons, arriving just in time to deliver a long complaint about the absence of superfast broadband in the outlying parts of his constituency.

Later, he made the same complaint directly to David Cameron, at Prime Minister’s Questions. Ironic that in one part of the countryside around Cheltenham they have GCHQ intercepting internet traffic on an unprecedented scale, while in nearby villages the broadband is so slow as to be barely usable.

Poppy police alert

“We will all be wearing our poppies with particular pride this year,” Ed Miliband said at PMQs. Sitting alongside him was Harriet Harman, who was not wearing a poppy.

Blame the Brummie accent

Glenis Simms, a Dudley councillor who defected from the Conservatives to Labour last week, had ambitions to be a Tory MP. She ran unsuccessfully in Dudley North in 2010, and then paid £250 for the privilege of being interviewed to see if she was suitable material for a safe Tory seat. She was turned down.

She claims it was because of her West Midlands accent. The Tories say that is nonsense, the proof being that Eric Pickles, who speaks with a Yorkshire accent, represents Brentwood, in Essex. It could be that there is less prejudice against a Yorkshire brogue than a Brummie accent.

A well-defended Rock

The people of Gibraltar have no stauncher friend than Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, who owns a bulldog named Buster, and holds no grudge against the Rock for the bite he once suffered from one its Barbary apes.

He has demanded to know whether Gibraltar is able to defend itself against invasion – from Spain, one assumes. The defence minister Mark Francois replied that the Rock’s defence capacity is “commensurate with any potential threat”.

There are 155 British soldiers stationed on Gibraltar, plus 705 Ministry of Defence support staff, plus the 226-strong Royal Gibraltar Regiment. Excluding reserves, that is a force of 381, supported by 705 civilians. Gibraltar has a population of less than 30,000, so more than one in 30 are employed in defence. Proportionally, it is as if the MoD had 2.3 million full-time service and support staff in the UK.